This is the second of three sermons based on the Book of Daniel which i preached recently at Elm Park Baptist Church.
The Bible passage we are looking at today is Daniel 4:1 – 19.
Last time I was here we looked at Daniel 3 and how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego took a stand for God and refused to bow down to the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar.
Today we are looking at a dream that Nebuchadnezzar had and how it came true and taught the King he needed to learn to be humble.
Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon. As far as the Middle East of the time was concerned, he was Number One. Babylon was the Superpower of the Age. They may not have had Weapons of Mass Destruction, but the army was virtually unstoppable. You either played the game their way or else……
Babylon had featured in history for a long time. Originally, we find it mentioned in the Bible as Babel a city founded by Nimrod who it appears was the first tyrannical ruler of the area. Due to the oppressive nature of Babylon under kings such as Nebuchadnezzar, it has come to be synonymous with despotic evil and godlessness.
Indeed, today many militant Muslims regard the USA as a modern day Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar’s father was a man called Nabopolassar who lead a rebellion against the Assyrian empire and destroyed its capital Nineveh. The destruction of Nineveh was foretold by the prophet Nahum and just listen to the words he says about it “Everyone who hears the news about you claps their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?”
Assyria had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and deported its 10 tribes. They had gone into history and disappeared. Sadly, if the Jews thought they were free of oppression with the end of Assyria they had not counted on the new empire of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar continued where his father left off and conquered the former Assyrian empire. His influence extended down into Egypt. It is said amongst other things that the city of Tyre was besieged for 13 years by Nebuchadnezzar before it fell to him.
Jewish historians said of Nebuchadnezzar “He was so greatly feared that as long as he was alive no one dared laugh; and when he went down to hell the inmates trembled, asking themselves whether he would rule them also.”
The psalms record the sorrow and anguish of the exiles. Many of you will know Psalm 137 “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down; there we wept when we remembered Zion.”
Nebuchadnezzar was also interested in building up the infrastructure of his empire. Excavations in the ruins of Babylon and various other cities have found that at least 90% of the bricks and tiles recovered have the stamp of Nebuchadnezzar on them. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote in about 450BC “In addition to its size Babylon surpasses in splendour any city in the known world”. Herodotus claimed the outer walls were 56 miles in length, 80 feet thick and 320 feet high. Wide enough, he said, to allow a four-horse chariot to turn. The inner walls were “not so thick as the first, but hardly less strong.” Inside the walls were fortresses and temples containing immense statues of solid gold. Rising above the city was the famous Tower of Babel, a temple to the god Marduk, that seemed to reach to the heavens.”
Also in Babylon was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – The Hanging Gardens.
According to accounts, the gardens were built to cheer up Nebuchadnezzar’s homesick wife, Amyitis. Amyitis, daughter of the king of the Medes, was married to Nebuchadnezzar to create an alliance between the nations. The l and she came from, though, was green, rugged and mountainous, and she found the flat, sun-baked terrain of Mesopotamia depressing. The king decided to recreate her homeland by building an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens.
It must have been a wonderful site – all these lush trees and plants in a land where it rarely rained.
You could say that Nebuchadnezzar was a self-made man who had built up the inherited family business, and like most self-made people deep down he worshipped himself. He has his own trinity: “I, myself and me”. Perhaps you know people like that. Their attitude seems to be that of the famous Frank Sinatra song “I did it my way”.
Nebuchadnezzar has had a dream and it worried him. Yet again he sends for his magicians, astrologers etc to tell him what’s what. It’s strange that throughout history rulers have consulted such people in the vain hope of keeping one step ahead of the game. In Exodus we read of Moses and Aaron confronting the court magicians and priests of Egypt. Coming into the promised land the people of Israel were warned to have nothing to do with fortune telling astrology etc; yet of course in due course they turned to all this stuff. In recent times it was known that Hitler consulted mediums, spiritists and occultic practitioners. Such people infested the White House when Ronald Regan was president, as his wife had daily horoscope readings. I understand that even Princess Diana regularly consulted such people.
Yet, Nebuchadnezzar’s advisors were useless. So, he had to send for Daniel to unravel the mystery of the dream.
What was the dream?
Nebuchadnezzar saw a huge tree which was so big it could be seen by everyone in the world. It provides shelter for birds and animals as well as food for them.
An angel proclaimed that the tree was to be cut down but the stump was to left in the field with a band of iron and bronze round it.
The angel then talks about a man who is to be left in the wild without his right mind for seven years.
Daniel has the unenviable job of explaining the dream to the king. Its not always pleasant being God’s messenger as sometimes the message is not what people want to hear even though its what they need to hear.
What does the dream mean?
The tree represents Nebuchadnezzar v22 “Your majesty, you are the tree, tall and strong. You have grown so great that you reach the sky and your power extends over the whole world.” No doubt at this point the king was feeling pretty pleased with himself, but here comes the sting:
v24 “This, then is what it means, Your Majesty, and this is what the supreme God has declared will happen to you. You will be driven away from human society and will live with wild animals. For seven years you will eat grass like an ox, and sleep in the open air, where the dew will fall on you. Then you will admit that the Supreme God controls all human kingdoms, and that he can give them to anyone he chooses. The angel ordered the stump to be left in the ground. This means that you will become king again when you acknowledge that God rules all the world. So then, Your Majesty, follow my advice. Stop sinning do what is right and be merciful to the poor. Then you will continue to be prosperous.“
There was no doubt about it. Nebuchadnezzar thought he was the big cheese. But God said as far as he is concerned Nebuchadnezzar was just like the crumbs on the deli counter and could be swept away. Just like that.
Put it another way we may be big in our own eyes or even those of other people, but God can cut us down to our true size any time he wants.
It would seem that what two words come out of this story:
Pride and Rebellion.
Nebuchadnezzar thought he had done it all by himself. God had no part in it. It was his and no one else’s. When God through Daniel tells him to repent, he continues in his rebellion by completely ignoring God.
Did you know if you are not obeying God, you are in rebellion?
Do you know how seriously God takes rebellion? In 1 Samuel 15 v23 we read what the prophet Samuel had to tell another proud King, Saul: “Rebellion against him is as bad as witchcraft and arrogance is as sinful as idolatry. Because you rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as King.”
Does Nebuchadnezzar take the warning and change his ways?
No; and we read from Daniel 4 v29 “Only twelve months later, while he was walking about on the roof of his royal palace in Babylon, he said ‘Look how great Babylon is! I built it as my capital city to display my power and might, my glory and majesty.’ Before the words were out of his mouth, a voice spoke from Heaven, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, listen to what I say! Your royal power is now taken away from you. You will be driven away from human society, live with wild animals and eat grass like an ox for seven years. Then you will acknowledge that the Supreme God has power over human kingdoms and that he can give them to anyone he chooses.’ The words came true immediately. Nebuchadnezzar was driven out of human society and ate grass like an ox. The dew fell on his body, and his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails as long as birds’ claws.”
It seems amazing that a transformation like this can happen to a person yet there is independent evidence from court records of the time preserved in the British Museum that Nebuchadnezzar did have a period of mental illness.
There is a happy ending to this story as Nebuchadnezzar comes to his senses and repents of his pride and his arrogance and is fully restored. “34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives for ever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ 36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honour and splendour were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisors and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.”
In v37 he is recorded as saying “And now, I Nebuchadnezzar, praise, honour and glorify the King of Heaven. Everything he does is right and just, and he can humble anyone who acts proudly.”
What is the message for us today?
How many of us have had warnings from God and ignored them? We think we can go on in our own sweet way, paying lip service to God, doing church on a Sunday, when all the while we are building our own little empires, our own power bases. Then suddenly we’re struck down by accident or illness. I’ve known this happen to people and they’ve got better, sometimes amazingly, and just carried on with their schemes and plots. They don’t heed the warning and eventually they will pay the price for their pride and rebellion.
Many of you will be familiar with the words of the Magnificat or the Song of Mary in Luke 1 “He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.“
For the rest of us this passage is a warning to remember who should be on the throne of our lives. If we do not let Jesus rule in our lives, we are in rebellion against the Lord and must expect the consequences. If we repent and give up control of our lives to Jesus, we can have peace with God and the promise of eternal life.
The choice is yours:
You can do a Frank Sinatra and “do it my way” or you can repent and seek to obey God and do it his way.
Who is on your throne?